Nestled in the beautiful Baltic region, across from Finland and next to Russia, sits the teeny country of Estonia. When someone asks me what my favourite place of each trip is, I give them a ‘look’. It is impossible to narrow it down to a single place, a top ten maybe, but never just one. But I can safely say that Estonia sits in the top five of this eight month adventure.
I started my journey in Tartu, the student-filled city of Estonia and to the eco-friendly colourful, Looming Hostel. The rooms are spacious and if you’re into keeping a healthy, clean environment, this is the hostel to stay at. A large well equipped kitchen and a fantastic roof top terrace. A single bed in a shared room will cost you around $AUD20-$24 (€14-€17) during the busier months. Tartu is the main student city and though there isn’t much to do during the day, it’s beautiful to walk through the large park, up towards the university and through the main square of town. Head to the local bars at night and meet some of the local students.
My original plan had been to go directly to Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, but during my last night in Tartu I met a few guys who were driving through the Baltic countries and they invited me along with them to explore the northern coast of Estonia before heading to Tallinn. First, we drove close to the Russian border in the city of Narva and had a picnic by the lake, feeding the ducks and checking out the quiet neighbourhood.
Onto Kohtla and we checked out what should have been the Valaste waterfall, which was unfortunately dried up at the time, then across too Ehalkiui and out to the massive boulder on the beach of Letipea.
The walk to the beach is half the fun, bashing through corn fields up to your knees in mud before you reach the gorgeous beach where you can climb on the large rocks. Just as it started to get dark we hit the road for the last time and headed to Tallinn.
They say the staff makes the hostel and in this case it’s 110% true. Make sure you book your stay at the Tallinn Backpackers and I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. Matt and all his minions will make your time in Tallinn incredible and you’ll never want to leave. I constantly extended my stay up until the last moment when I had to leave for I had booked an non-flexible flight just before I had arrived. A bed in one of the mixed rooms will cost you around $AUD18-$22 (€12-€15) during the peak season, but because the hostel is small and well so is Tallinn, I suggest look up this hostel in advance.
Tallinn Backpackers has a fantastic atmosphere and their spacious common room is a great place to meet fellow travellers whilst sharing a few drinks and participating in the nightly activities run by the hostel staff. Scrumptious dinner cooked nightly for a very small fee, a large kitchen with everything you need, comfortable beds, clean modern bathrooms and if you can book yourself a spot in the eight bed dormitory – how does a spa bath sound? I really can’t talk this hostel up enough as staying here is what made me Estonian experience incredibly memorable.
Though Tallinn is small, there is still so much to see and explore in this beautiful city and with new friends and there is a great environment at the hostel, which made my experience memorable. The staff will encourage you to join in drinking games and you will sign your life away with the ridiculous rules they enforce.
Want to get your heart racing and your adrenaline pumping? Check out the shooting range. You get to shoot from nine different riffles, which is a lot harder than you think – they’re so heavy!! These tours can be arranged in most of the hostels for €50-€70 depending on what package you’re after.
Jump on the Old Prison tour (€10). Having a tour guide is okay because you learn about the history and will make sure you don’t get lost, but they do move extremely fast and we had more fun taking our time. Just be careful not to get lost because it’s very dark and maze-like.
Spend a few hours walking around the old town and through the cobblestoned central square, filled with friendly locals to talk to along the way. Tallinn does offer a free walking tour, so if you want to see the main attractions like the Freedom Square, some of the famous Churches, Old Tallinn City Wall, Alexander Nevsky Cathedrol, Toompea, a few great viewpoints and many more, you may as well join in. But Tallinn really is a great little city to get lost in as amongst the winding alley ways you will find cute market stalls and boutiques.
I love to try the local delicacies in every new country I visit and sometimes individual towns also have their own food. Tallinn is known for its infamous elk soup found at the 3 Dragons. Definitely make sure you visit this medieval Estonian restaurant found in the main square.
The best thing about staying in a city over a weekend is that you’re guaranteed to come across any type of market. Every Saturday in Tallinn there is a Flea market and a Russian Market about 15 minutes’ walk out of the Old Town. The locals are absolutely hilarious and even if you don’t find anything to tickle your fancy, you can enjoy grabbing a hot drink and spending a few hours talking with them as their English is perfect and they’re so inviting. The Russian Markets are a little sketchy so keep an eye out, but other than that you can honestly find anything there. Dig through piles and piles of cheap goods and you will find hidden gems. I brought heaps of clothes for ten to 50 cents! You can also find other things at these markets from food, old passports, hair products and stationary.
As Estonia is right up on top of the Baltic’s it does make it a little harder to get too in terms of time travel, depending on where you’re coming from. If you are planing to see all of the Baltic countries then you may as well take your time through the three and therefore getting to and from Estonia will be a lot more accessible. Riga, Latvia to Tartu: €11 bus with Simple Express. Riga, Latvia to Tallinn: €16 bus with Simple Express. St Petersburg, Russia to Tallinn: €18 bus with Simple Express. Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn: €24-€32 via ferry, head to http://www.directferries.co.uk for more information on the different ferry options.
Estonia is such an amazing country and if I hadn’t pre-booked Oktoberfest with some friends I would have stayed longer. Tallinn is simply incredible and I wish I had more time to explore the countryside and down the west coast. So if you have the time, hire a car and see more of Estonia. Please don’t give this beautiful country a miss and make sure you have the opportunity to fully explore the Baltic’s as they’re completely different to the rest of Europe.